Thursday, June 24, 2010

Something Book Publicists Love to Hear: "Did We Know This Was Coming?"

[From The Huffington Post]

When a publishing company's publicity department announces that a major media break has occurred, many an editor, publisher, and sales director will exhibit a unique two-stage reaction. The stages occur sequentially. Stage One is usually along the lines of: "Yay!" Stage Two, which follows just milliseconds later, is invariably: "Did we know this was coming?"

It's a fair question. If a publisher knows about a big media hit in advance, they can consider their stock situation and perhaps push a few more copies out to retailers in anticipation of the crushing demand they hope the publicity will generate. They might even have a discussion about whether going back to press is warranted.

But paranoia lurks deep in the heart of the book publicist, who may think the question is accusatory. "Did we know this was coming?" can sound like "Are you doing your job, or did we just get lucky?"

Book flack--relax! The question almost certainly isn't meant that way, but even if it were, there are just three possible answers:
  1. Yes, we knew it was coming and we knew it was coming today.
  2. Yes, we knew it was coming but we weren't sure when it was coming.
  3. No, we had no idea it was coming.
Any of these answers is acceptable. If it's number one, you're obviously in the clear. If it's number two, chances are you gave everyone some kind of advance notice that something was coming at some point, date TBA. You can't reasonably be expected to know the exact date every publicity break will hit. Media outlets are notoriously squirrely about alerting publicists to run dates, and boy do they hate to be nagged about it.

If it's number three--congratulations! It means your campaign has taken on a life of its own. You've got it right where you want it--bubbling along just beyond your direct control. You don't want to have to work for each and every break--you want the publicity to develop some momentum and generate new publicity for you. That's how publicity works, ideally.

Your colleagues may still pull long faces about the surprise factor--that there was no time to think about getting out more copies or going back to press. So what? The truth is, media outlets with the potential to move the dial to that degree can be counted on one hand--one of those four-fingered cartoon character hands. Or, you know, the Hamburger Helper hand. And you still have to sell through the copies that are already in the marketplace, right?

By the way, if anyone ever does ask you "Are you doing your job, or did we just get lucky?" be sure to tell them they don't know what they're talking about. Anyone who thinks luck doesn't play a role in a successful publicity campaign is out of their tiny little mind.

For more things book publicists love to hear, see Six Things Book Publicsits Love to Hear and Something Book Publicists Love to Hear: "How Can We Leverage This?"

Monday, June 14, 2010

Something Book Publicists Love to Hear: "How Can We Leverage This?"

Not long ago I compiled a list of Six Things Book Publicists Love to Hear.  I'm now adding a seventh:

"How can we leverage this?"

This is generally asked by an author, agent or editor when a book has garnered a nice bit of media exposure that falls along the decent-to-boffo range of the publicity spectrum.  It's a natural reaction and a perfectly reasonable question—how can we use this break to generate more publicity?— so it's hard to say why this query can be so irksome to a book flack.

Perhaps it's because it often leaves the publicist feeling the way the master of the workhouse felt in Oliver Twist: You want more?!  But that's the nature of publicity—it's never enough.  In all the years I've been doing it, I've never been told: "Great media break!  Your work is done here.  Please stand down, take a well-earned rest, and accept the thanks of a grateful nation."  It's always:  "What else you got?"

Or perhaps it's because, in the excitement of the moment, the question is often posed without first taking a brief pause to simply appreciate the current success.  Any good publicist should be thinking about whether a media break can be exploited to generate more publicity.  But if they're at all like me, their first inclination will be to take just a moment to savor this particular accomplishment.  Celebrate this media break for its own merits. Get down on one knee and sacrifice a white bull to whatever capricious publicity god was smiling down upon them that day.  Because getting a great media break is one of the few sources of genuine satisfaction the job has to offer.

Or perhaps it's because the question can become a knee-jerk response to every development.  "My book is ranked 103 on Amazon!  How can we leverage this?" "My book has its own website!  How can we leverage this?" "I've been named Author of the Year by my high school alumni association!  How can we leverage this?" Those are all fine accomplishments, but the answers to these questions, in order, are:  We can't; we can't; and we can't.  We need to be selective.  We need to make sure the break we're trying to leverage is major, substantive, and potentially useful to the journalists, reviewers and bloggers we'll be approaching.

Or maybe it's just that word: "leverage."  There's something inherently irritating about it, at least in this context.  How can we leverage this?  Well, first we're going to need a fulcrum…

Whatever the source of your irritation, book flack, get over it.  You've got work to do.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Publicity Tip

If you're a B-list celebrity looking for some exposure, try a public same-sex kiss. The media fall for it every time.